Headed to the Indy 500 this weekend? You'll likely remember the sunscreen, the water bottles and the sunglasses. But there's one accessory you won't want to forget:
Wearing ear muffs with a noise reduction rating could make the difference in preventing permanent hearing loss from this annual event, a Franciscan Health Ear, Nose and Throat specialist explains.
The Science of Sound
The roar of the racetrack comes with a price.
"The damage comes to the ear from the volume of the sound," explains Matt Provenzano, MD, an otolaryngologist with Franciscan Physician Network in Michigan City. "The louder the volume, the higher energy of the sound. The more energy the ears deal with, the more potential for damage.
"Studies show the peak level in the pit exceeds 140 decibels," Dr. Provenzano said. "Even out in the stands and infield, you're still exposed to significantly high levels of noise."
For every 5 decibel increase in noise, the recommended time of exposure is cut in half. You can have eight hours of exposure at 90 decibels (think, the sound of a passing motorcycle), but only four hours at 95 decibels (think, the sound of a kitchen blender).
Headed to Carb Day? That concert will likely rate over 112 decibels. Continued exposure is considered dangerous to hearing.
OSHA recommendations limit exposure to sounds over 90 decibels to an 8-hour exposure. However, a race track is far louder, with continual decibel levels higher than jackhammers, jet plane takeoffs, sirens and firearms.
Impact of High Exposure
Potential effects of exposure to the high decibel levels of a day at the track include an inner ear concussion, ringing in the ears and permanent hearing loss, Dr. Provenzano said. "You've essentially created shock damage to the inner ear," he said.
For children, it's even more critical.
"For young kids, if they suffer permanent hearing loss, it will affect their whole life and speech development," said Dr. Provenzano.
Wearing hearing protection for the day at the track is key, and the options are many, from foam ear plugs to ear muffs to noise-canceling headphones. Dr. Provenzano recommends looking for hearing protection that offers a noise reduction rating of 26 or more, which can help lower your overall exposure in the stands to near that 90 decibel level.
"You really want to get something that offers the best noise reduction for where you think you're going to be," he said. "You will get what you pay for in quality and amount of noise reduction."
Dr. Provenzano advises against wearing earbuds underneath the sound protection to listen to the race. "Studies demonstrate that even if it's not loud, it's still delivering considerable amounts of energy to the ear."
When to Seek Care
If you've attended a loud event, such as a concert or high-energy sports event, you might have noticed ringing in your ears after. While that may stop within a day or so, if it doesn't seek medical treatment, Dr. Provenzano said.
"The general rule is to seek medical attention if you notice a sudden, severe change in hearing," he said. "You can see an audiologist, and if a hearing test shows hearing loss, it requires treatment within a day or two."
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